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El Landito Saves the World Redux

"This time tomorrow where will we be/On a spaceship somewhere sailing across an empty sea/This time tomorrow what will we know/Well we still be here watching an in-flight movie show." -- The Kinks, "This Time Tomorrow."

From time-to-time on this here little slice of Inter-nets, I've casually mentioned my father -- Pops Cardillo -- a man who's watched more MLS than 99.9 percent of the world's total population.

If it weren't for my dad there's no way this blog exists in its current form.

My father's been a soccer-lifer, first serving as a ball boy when my grandfather managed the Stamford Italians in an old ethically-driven Connecticut soccer league back in early 1960s. Eventually right around 1986 he began coaching our elementary school town youth team.

During Italia 1990 my father brought the team over to watch a grainy VHS copy of, I think, the final between West Germany and Argentina -- not exactly the most fondly recalled match of all time. But hey, back then it wasn't like we had Fox Soccer Channell, GolTV or even ESPN showing highlights on "Sportscenter."

Eventually in the build up to the 1994 World Cup my father and I started watching whatever U.S. games were on -- many times on Univision. Until the start of MLS in 1996 the U.S. international matches were about the only thing American television programmers deemed fit to grace their airwaves. Remember Ty Keough and Seamus Malin -- who never said one positive thing about the USMNT?

So when the U.S. was poised to play the most important World Cup game since the 2002 quarterfinal Wednesday morning against Algeria, the choice was fairly obvious. Instead of going to a bar or someplace else, I'd have to the action from Pretoria alongside my Pops in the comfort of my condo's living room.

As the game unfolded, not sure what was more entertaining? The match itself or my father's reactions?

My dad is usually fairly mild-mannered. He keeps his emotions fairly in check, or at least bottled up for the most part. Reserved might be the best way to describe him.

For the 90 minutes of tension, he was pounding his fists into the arms of my recliner. Jumping up and screaming. Sitting on the floor. Pacing. Near tears in his eyes for much of the second half.

You know, the kind of emotions a baseball fan experiences during a tense playoff game. How college basketball fans feel in the closing seconds of an NCAA tournament game. The kind of games in any sport that sour the stomach sour and the knees into jelly.

Those 90 minutes, especially the final 45 alternately felt like an eternity and a blink of an eye.

And judging by the reaction from sea to shining sea, my father wasn't the only one in America who experienced the agony and the ecstasy unfurling in Pretoria Wednesday morning. That, friends, is the World Cup in a nutshell. It might not be the world's greatest or most exciting soccer, but every 90 minutes here on out produce the kind of drama and excitement that make watching sports a quasi-religious experience.

It's not so much about missed chances, 4-4-2s, counter attacks and what have you.

It's about jumping three feet off the ground. It's about screaming with the unabashed joy of a five-year-old. It's about hugging a complete stranger with the embrace of your soul mate.

That's the World Cup.

Do you think whenever they show those mass video screens set up in the streets of Europe that everyone watching is a die-hard soccer fan? Of course not. They're there for the rare chance to experience a collective group joy with your countrymen.

Think about it. How much time in 2010 do we spend isolated, alone behind computer screens or tapping away the most meaningless thoughts into our cell phones for the entire world to read (or ignore). For one month every four years the World Cup gives everyone on the planet or in a nation a common ground, a common interest.

These might seem like hoary old cliches, but they're the truth, too.

In the haste of the American's last gasp, heart pounding 1-0 victory, my mind was too busy to write a full post.

The only thing that sprung to mind was that June 23, 2010 might finally have been the day Americans learned why the rest of the world love and embraces soccer. A fact that seemed to be confirmed by the seemingly endless strings of celebration videos quickly uploaded, which summarize the feeling far better than my kindergarten-level sentences could.

In the big picture, is Donovan's goal going to push soccer to become the No. 1 sport in America? Is it going to fill MLS stadiums across the nation?

Probably not.

What it did, though, was establish the World Cup as a sport the casual American sports fan could embrace and enjoy without the fear of mockery, you know, the whole "soccer is boring" joke.

Think about it. ESPN pumped so much money into hyping up the tournament that people have indeed been watching. (Wednesday's match was the highest a.m. rating ESPN ever posted.)

If the U.S. had gone out after failing to defeat Algeria after a pair of perfectly good goals were waved off by the refs in back-to-back matches? The skeptics and old guard soccer haters would have had a field day. They wouldn't be too far off base either. Why care or pay attention to a sport that can't officiate itself properly?

Think those would-be fans would be back again in four years? That's a long time to reinforce the idea that "soccer sucks."

Flash forward to 2014 and the same old doubts about the U.S. team would once again creep into the conversation. This team is no good. They can't beat the best. They're boring. Etc.

Now, with Donovan's moment of 91st minute magic the American general soccer audience have their bellwether moment. A moment to look back on and get goosebumps whenever the World Cup highlight packages show Donovan's cool, calm finish, slide across the pitch and subsequent American pig pile.

Better yet, one of those moments you'll always remember where you were when it happened. The pure, unbridled joy.

You could argue that beating Portugal 3-2 in the 2002 World Cup opener or topping Mexico 2-0 in the 2002 knockout round were bigger, more important games. The win last summer against Spain in the Confederations Cup semifinals went further in proving that the Yanks could hang with the world's best.

Those matches indeed will forever hold warm spots in the memories of the pure, hardcore American soccerhead. There's no denying that beating Spain -- snapping their massive 30+ game unbeaten streak in the process -- was a better achievement that needing a stoppage time goal to handle Algeria 1-0 in the World Cup group stage.

For years the casual American fan didn't have anything positive to remember the U.S. National Team by, just disappointment and unrealized hype. The casual fan wasn't up in the middle of the night or wee hours of the morning to watch the magic of a young Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, John O'Brien and Clint Mathis in 2002. They weren't there for the Confederations Cup, a tournament that pales in significance to the World Cup.

The U.S. finally had its collective World Cup tipping point moment Wednesday. When I went out for coffee Thursday morning Donovan's smiling mug was on the front page -- A1 -- over every newspaper on the rack.

Not even the crankiest of cranky old media type could deny the World Cup doesn't mean anything to Americans after June 23, 2010.


* One more thought from my Dad. We used to watch a ton of UConn basketball games together. Until 1999 the Huskies were always bounced from the NCAA tournament before the Final Four. We'd always be disappointed and left feeling empty. My father's usual refrain was, "Well, I just wish we had one more game to look forward to."

When you boil it down, the U.S. win vs. Algeria gives American fans one more game to forward to, Saturday afternoon vs. Ghana in what is sure to be the most-watched soccer game ever in the States. Even casual eyeballs are going to be locked in around 2:30. You don't need to know much about soccer either, all people are going to see is an American team in a knockout game of a tournament.

* In retrospect, I guess I can see why Algeria penned in so deep and played for the counterattack. The only way they were going to score was if the U.S. pulled too forward and got stretched out.

* Once again, we watched the U.S. soccer mentality DNA building blocks continue to forms chains right before our eyes. The U.S. may never win easy or have the most technically gifted players.

There is something to be said about the eight or nine goals they've scored after the 80th minute in this World Cup cycle. Many teams around the globe simply give up. They just expect to lose at that point.

The never say die attitude on the soccer field? Quintessentially American.

* Lost in the shuffle, late in the match Algeria had broken down with numbers on the U.S. goal in the final ten minutes. Carlos Bocanegra made a full-extension lunge to tip it out for a corner.

* On the term of unlikely developments, where does Bill Clinton becoming a soccer fan rank? Somewhere next to Betty White becoming the go-to comedy star of 2010?

* How great was Ian Darke all game? Soothing, calm, knowledgeable. And the moment of the Donovan goal? "Go Go USA"? Perfect. I think Martin Tyler would have undersold it, while JP would have talked over it. Darke is a revelation.

* One thing, if people still don't care about soccer or the World Cup after Donovan's goal. That's quite all right. Got to. This is America, man.

All I've ever really wanted from a soccer in American standpoint is the media to cover it with respect and accurately. There are obviously fans out there, the days of getting an easy punchline on soccer should be over.

* More on U.S. v. Ghana from a tactical, soccer fan standpoint on Friday. In fairness, the Xs and Os of Wednesday's day got blurred by the crazy ending. Maybe a touch of hyperbole, but there's no denying that was a yuge moment. Biggest development is how much these guys have left for Saturday, emotionally and physically.

* One final thought, a team like Ghana scares me to death.

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12 Responses to “El Landito Saves the World Redux”

  1. # Blogger 30f

    Ghana may not scare the newly minted US soccer fans. The Black Stars certainly have the full attention of the players and coaches. Four years ago they booted us home - so no one in the nifty tracksuits is going to over-looking Ghana. They scare me, too. Less sad that Essien is not playing now.

    How weird is it that I am looking at the knockout stage bracket to see if USMNT are in line to get Paraguay or Slovakia if we win the next two matches. The next two matches?!? I have gone crazy!!!

    Donovan great performances all over the field - except his teary, squeaky-voiced post match interview. #TestosteroneFail

    I am very happy that Italy and France have gone home. As I tweeted Thursday "Only people that want to see a team bring back the 'old gang' are the nostalgic home fans more interested in memory than victory." Re-hashing the past HAS worked at World Cups before, but it doesn't seem to be as effective this time around. This is a good sign for the game as a whole (IMO) and for the USMNT.  

  2. # Blogger HBO2003

    When is big too big?

    A thought I've had in the back of my mind leading up to and throughout WC2010 is how big do I want soccer to become in the US. Since your post today mainly deals with this issue, I'll bullet point some of my thoughts instead of an editorial type form.

    -Soccer still feels like a foreign language(cool thing) to me. I was recently at a party where I was introduced to a family member's fiancée for first time. The WC was brought up in a group of non-soccer fans and as conversation died down this fiancée and I started debating line-up decisions for France 15 players deep. Some people were looking at us like we were speaking French. This interaction with a stranger who knows soccer is something that could go away if it grows.
    -American Media - Watching Mike Tirico and (hate to say this) reading Peter King have demonstrated some of the top broadcasters/writers in America don't know soccer well enough for it to be a feature sport, yet. Chris Russo is brought up a lot on this blog and I'll equate him to the best sports radio hosts in Midwest since Ive never heard him. Whether its Russo or the Midwest's best the most entertaining guys on radio (in their 50s) can't talk soccer..its bad radio. The tipping point between niche and mainstream media coverage is still far off and I think thats a really good thing. When newly interested American fan turns to media for help...Dan Patrick/PTI/City Newspaper Columnist A/Simmons aren't ready to give good information (without the hint of this sport's still boring).

    My conclusion is besides growth for MLS franchises... why should an American soccer fan need the feeling of acceptance at this point. It does still cost $6 a month for FSC and GolTV, but besides that with great blogs like this one, ESPNsoccernet for news and rumors... what more does a fan really need. It's still more refreshing for me being a year round niche USMNT fan than it is being a year round NBA/NFL fan. Love/follow all three teams equally, but don't get suffocated with coverage and fake fans when I watch soccer.  

  3. # Blogger Cardillo


    Take a bow son, great comment. Couldn't agree with how you're feeling any more.

    I agree, happy with soccer in its niche.

    Couldn't agree more, the traditional media types are afraid to show their ignorance, so the easy thing to make fun of the sport or call it boring.

    It'll change, though.

    Days like yesterday ensure it.

    Great job!  

  4. # Blogger macarthur31

    Great stuff, Cardillo.

    @HBO2003, I feel ya on being a secret society member. I'm a big fan of the big 4 sports, but it took Championship Manager to start down that path of becoming a guy who TiVos EPL highlight packages, or looking up Ray Hudson youtube clips. (That was akin to what NHL Hockey series on Genesis did for me). It feels a bit like when my favorite li'l band somehow gets that Billboard Heatseeker single. I'm delighted, yet wondering what this will bring.

    You're right though in that this is a whole new media universe. (I no longer need soccer to win over folks -- I just hope we get more outlets that cover it well. And as long as that banker from Winnipeg keeps getting face time on that little channel in the 200s, that I'm set for awhile.)

    I don't worry about the the Peter Kings, Colin Cowherds, Jim Romes...etc. They're going to die out (professionally or physically).

    I do hope the afterglow of this run will mean that our domestic league here gets an upgrade. No good in having all of our kids play overseas. Let's take care of talent first, and I'm sure the bells and whistles will follow. (Heck, I don't even need prom/rel -- just make sure we're paying guys more than 12K a year).

    A buddy of mine took the day home from work to watch the game with his 9 year old son. His boy loves to play soccer, but he told me that during that game he saw his kid "get it" -- the agony, the ecstacy, all of it. This kid's "first impression" of USMNT is that we're clutch winners. I laughed and told him, "Can you believe it? My first USMNT memory was Tab Ramos getting brained during the US-Brazil game."  

  5. # Blogger Jason

    Well done, as always, Cardillo.

    Here's to there always being a secret society.

    However, I've got a big debate in my office about some minutiae in yesterday's broadcast.

    In Ian Darke's goal call, I suggest he dropped in the phrase "Gold Goal!", as opposed to "Go, Go, USA".

    Looks like the FIFA gestapo has pulled a bunch of the video links so this is the best I can find at the moment.


    p.s. This debate is a lot more fun than the ones we had post group stage '06.  

  6. # Blogger xtianDC

    Man, just watching the videos of all the fan me up all over again! Top 5 sporting moment in my lifetime, easily. Just crazy.

    Here's the weird thing about soccer reaching critical mass in this country: you want it, but you want it done on the right terms. I think @HBO2003, and Cardillo before, have nailed it. It's like your favorite band breaking through or something. You're happy for them, but you're also bummed about the prospect of their shows being dominated by d-bags and the like. I'm overstating it, of course, but as fans, we just don't want to be patronized. The non-soccer ESPN commentators have, for the most part, done really well. Bob Ley in particular seems to have absorbed enough of the history of the game to come off intelligently. Mike Tirico hasn't been bad...but don't drop a "Total Football" during the Dutch highlights. It just makes him look like a poser. Take some time, learn the game, don't overstate your knowledge. I'm still learning myself. The majority of the guys who comment here can run circles around my knowledge...which is part of the reason I enjoy the blog so much.

    As for Ghana...plenty to fear. I think those of us who follow closely know that we're capable of beating OR losing to pretty much any country on any given day. The Confederations Cup set the ceiling...but 2006 is still a recent enough memory. I like the draw too and share @30frames ' optimism...but one step/game/ at a time, right?  

  7. # Blogger Schlom

    I get a lot of the complaints about soccer being too low scoring (boring, luck or bad officiating becomes too much of a factor) but that same fact lends itself to moments like yesterday. There really isn't anything else in another sport that could compare to it -- maybe if Gordon Hayward's half-court shot went in in the NCAA Final?  

  8. # Blogger Adam

    Another agreement for the whole 'secret society' thing...

    It's kind of cool to be the only person in your office or in your group of friends who knows anything about soccer - so they all come to me for expertise and opinions when they have soccer questions (usually only happens during World Cup, but still).

    And it certainly does something for your level of fandom when you HAVE to wake up early in the morning or take off work to be able to support the team... you have to be either a hardcore fan or not really one at all. Losing that exclusive feeling amongst USMNT fans if soccer somehow went "mainstream" would be kind of disappointing.  

  9. # Anonymous DoubleB

    @30f: Agreed about Italy and France. I've always felt the best time to watch Italy is when they were behind. They are forced to play attacking soccer and I think they are actually very good at it. Quagliarella may have had the goal of the tournament today.

    And while Ghana is a good team, they haven't exactly lit it up on offense (2 PK goals in the tournament). I'd much rather the team face a group that struggles to score than one that can expose a poor backline (i.e. Germany)

    I don't think hard-core US soccer fans need to worry too much about soccer becoming mainstream. It's ceiling might be the Olympics--where the average American cares for a few weeks because someone's wearing US gear and then moves on to mock drafts and the sort. Ice hockey didn't exactly take off in the States after this year's magical Olympic run. It caters to a very niche audience (that is extremely loyal) similar to soccer.  

  10. # Blogger macarthur31

    If I may be sports-media-wonky:
    Back to ESPN coverage -- Their foreign talent in-studio and announcing teams has been terrific. However, I've been pleasantly surprised by the in-studio talent -- Bob Ley, Chris Fowler and Mike Tirico were the right choices.

    Bob Ley is the old school anchor, who has been carrying the torch for soccer on the Bristol campus. Getting this is payback for all those years of keeping the flame lit. Even though he's done many years at ESPN, he's as joyful as a kid during this tourney.

    Mike Tirico is like the network's Costas -- incredibly versatile. The WC also encompasses the essence of his two main ESPN gigs -- a fusion between the bombastic Monday Night Football experience and the history and reverence of the Golf majors.

    Finally, Chris Fowler might seem to be an odd choice. When I think Fowler, I mainly think of him fending off Corso's mascot head, or dodging questionable signage on a College Football gameday shoot. He's also the X Games anchor, which means he can also do rowdy. However, he's also the net's main Tennis anchor, and given that sport's shift away from US dominance (only 4 players in top 100 are US women, and that includes the Williams sisters, outside of Roddick and Marathon Man Isner...I betcha can't name two other top 100 players. To quote Pitino, Pete Sampras isn't walking through that door. Jim Courier isn't walking through that door...), Fowler has tremendous experience handling the nuances of foreign pronunciation and proves dude can do his homework.

    Gotta give props to ESPN on this. They don't need the Olympics (billions of dollars in rights fees), they should betting some pretty good ROI with this media property.  

  11. # Anonymous Dr. JwB

    Great article. The articles I've enjoyed most during the WC are this one and the one by Bradley Sr.'s brother on ESPN. Thanks for sharing.

    I watched this game by myself at home, but that was probably for the best, because I was no fun to be around for 90 min. When I had a moment, I was thinking of 430AM, vs. Portugal, watching with my buddy Ryan back in Boston. It seemed like the whole city was asleep except for us. And we did our best to wake them up.

    That video made me proud to be a long-time fan of the beautiful game.  

  12. # Blogger taylor

    Great game, great post, great comments, great everything.

    I watched it at home on espn3, and I too could have sworn he said "Golden Goal."  

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